This was at Brimfield a few years back…
This one is one of my favorites! About four years ago, maybe five I bought a big load of frames. My kids sat on the back of the truck. When I asked to take a pic, well you can see. Ha ha ha!
And here's a real throwback, all the way to 2003 or 2004. As you can clearly see, my love of frames runs deep. This was my apartment in the West Village.
The first thing I did was to take it out of that frame. Ugh. Then I started researching images that might resemble this one. Believe it or not there were a bunch of stories of Middle East adventures. I'm still researching who the artist might be, so stay tuned. But when I think about illustration art, I immediately think about the Brandywine School…
The members of this school included Howard Pyle, Jessie Wilcox Smith, N.C. Wyeth, Frank Schoonover, Violet Oakley among about 70 others who were hand picked each year to learn from Pyle. So remember to always keep your mind open to new and different styles of art!
And the modes of transport were interesting.
I did buy a pair of lamps at this market which later made it into Justin Shaulis' guest suite at the Christopher Kennedy Palm Springs Show House. Here's a pic of them in situ. Along with a pair of Florence Knoll lounge chairs, a concrete torso sculpture, a pair of granite bookends, a brass floor lamp, a brass dish shaped like a ginkgo leah and a hand hammered brass cache pot all sourced from 20th Century by HKFA.
So you really never know where finds might wind up! Now, back to the art. Here's the painting I bought while in Miami. A vintage 1970's Russian Constructivist style hard edge geometric style abstract oil on canvas painting by Dennis Ashbaugh…
I absolutely love this style of art as it is so linear and graphic. It really ties in to another shaped canvas hard edge geometric abstract oil on canvas painting that I bought a few years earlier which wound up in Patrick Hamilton's Kentucky Derby inspired room, Derby Deconstructed, at the Holiday House show house in New York City…
The hard edge style really came about as early as the 1950's and 1960's, but both of my paintings date to the 1970's. This style may have grown out of color field and post painterly abstraction, but it has certainly achieved a category all of its own. Artists were moving away from the expressive qualities of abstraction and into a geometric representation. More linear. With full, flat planes of color and economy of gesture. The shaped canvases especially appeal to me as they represent the art in a very three dimensional way.
Have you ever been absolutely compelled to buy something? To where the piece spoke to you? Drew you in. Took hold of you and wouldn't let go. Well, it happened to me. This is a story about my introduction to the world of Old Master painting.
It was a very early Saturday morning and I was checking out the offerings of a dealer friend from Massachusetts. Looking over his inventory and seeing much that I liked, but nothing I loved until I came across a painting that was still in its box. I asked about it and he commented to me that he had just purchased it the night before from another dealer. Who doesn't like fresh merchandise? So I asked to see it and he said, "Oh, Heather, that's not for you. It's an old painting of Joan of Arc". I asked again and he unwrapped the painting. That was all it took. Other dealers began to circle around me as I held up the painting for examination. Each with their own commentary on the age, subject, condition and so on. Each giving me a quizzical look wondering why I'd be looking at it. As I was known primarily for dealing in picture frames, the frame on this painting wasn't much to speak of. A Dutch style moulding dating from the early 1900's. Still I held on to it. Knowing that if I loosened my grasp, one of my associates could swoop in and grab the painting for themselves. So I held on, or rather it held me. Without haggling, I paid my friend and hopped in the first taxi I could hail and headed downtown to my apartment. And so began my project.
First would come a true assessment of the painting and that could only come from seeing it out of the frame and from a proper cleaning. My painting restorer is an expert in Old Masters (little did I know) and he was pleased to take on the project. After seeing the work out of the frame and a proper cleaning, it turned out to be a lot older than any of us suspected. Rather than being from the 1800's and a Continental portrait of Joan of Arc, it was from the 1500's and an Italian portrait of Saint Michael. Wow! Three hundred years earlier and a different sex!
Saint Michael is portrayed in a bejeweled armor, holding the balance scale, his sword and shield by his side. Looks like we all could have used a bit more coffee before making up our minds that early Saturday morning! Turns out, the painting was re-lined at some point in the early 1900's, framed by a Massachusetts framer and offered through a Montreal gallery. The relining and new stretcher are truly first rate with a mid stretcher bar on a painting that measures approximately 17" x 21". The Montreal gallery may have commissioned the work or handled the piece afterwards as their stamp is visible on the stretcher bar. The framer's label is still visible on the backing paperboard on the work. All great clues to ascertaining the identity of the artist, but all less than helpful.
As I am not an expert in Old Master painting, I really don't have an opinion on painting styles. Sure, I could look through a few coffee table books and say, "Gee, it looks like a Titian". But that really would not hold water. I researched the gallery. It closed sometime in the 1930's. I researched the framer. Only came up with a listing in the newspaper of the time. I researched the researcher who wrote their thesis on the gallery. She recommended that I read her 2000 page thesis. Written entirely in French. Dead ends? Of course not. There is always a way if you are willing.
So, I enlisted the help of an expert. An armor society in the United Kingdom. Their expert gladly offered his opinion of the armor, for a small fee. With this new information and some clues, I'm headed off in another direction to better understand my painting.
Now, some of you may be thinking, "Why not show some photos to one of the big auction houses?" A good idea. If you know how to speak directly with the expert. There are many levels in an auction house and getting up to the top level is not as simple as sending an email. So, perhaps some of you may be thinking, "Why not just show the painting to an expert?" Another good idea. If you know THE expert. For there are many experts. Many. And finding the right expert is almost as difficult as researching an unsigned Italian Old Master painting from the 1500's. So, I'll take my chances with me.
It was a cold and crisp Saturday morning in February when I stepped out of my East Village sublet apartment and onto the streets of Manhattan. The club kids and delivery men shared the same sidewalks as one group made their way home and another group began their day. It was 4am and I was headed to the 26th Street flea market in Chelsea. Two nights prior I had packed up my life into a rental truck and made the ninety mile journey from Philadelphia. A short two hours but surely a world apart. It was while I was living in Philly, working as a waitress, that I had had the realization. The realization that my childhood weekends spent with my family at the local flea markets were truly the moments that were inspiring. The early mornings spent looking at Queen Anne chairs and Queen LP’s, chandeliers and ball gowns, brass side tables and ship’s models - had laid the foundation of what was to be my moment of realization. I wanted to be an antique dealer. So, in February of 2002, I packed myself up and headed to New York City. With a six month sublet that I had paid for in full and six hundred dollars to my name, I was determined to make a place for myself in The Big Apple. That cold and crisp Saturday morning was to be the first day of my new career - only I really didn’t know what to look for or what I’d find. Arriving to the flea market shortly after 4am I found myself in the center of a parking lot near the intersection of 26th Street and 6th Avenue. A parking lot bustling with vendors and dealers, buyers holding flash lights who were pushing their way to the latest vehicle that had pulled in to their assigned space and started to unload. It was when the items were pulled from the vehicle that the excitement would begin. Anticipation and tempers ran high as buyers jockeyed for position to be closest to the fresh merchandise. But this crowd was a fickle one. As each new vehicle pulled in, the crowd of dealers would turn on their heels and dart to the latest vendor. Each seller would command their attention only until the next vendor would arrive. To me it was like watching a dance - or more like a school of fish who would ebb and flow, turn and move - all with one purpose, to find the next treasure. And I too was there for treasure - but what? I stepped in and out of the fray, watching and seeing all that was on display. I was waiting for that next all important realization - what type of antique dealer was I to become?
It was then that it happened. I stumbled across a pile of dusty old picture frames. They were stacked up against the wall like so many glittering relics - gold leafed, accentuated with ornament - they were it! Beautiful and useful, architectural and artistic, practical and decadent - the picture frame was to become my inspiration, my passion, my business. And just like that, Heather Karlie Fine Art was born. But wait a minute! What did I know about picture frames? Not much. But I did know enough to follow my gut. And hold on just a sec - who exactly would be buying all these picture frames from me? Well, I knew that the Upper East Side was home to some of the best art galleries, specializing in everything from Old Masters to Contemporary works. There were sure to be a few among them who needed period picture frames. So I invested some of that six hundred dollars into a few frames that I considered to be the best of the bunch. By now, the sun had risen and all of the days offerings had either been snapped up by the early morning buyers or were being considered by the 'late morning’ arrivals. These were the folks who had strolled in well past nine with a specialty coffee drink in one hand and a French pastry in the other. It was at this time that I headed home to officially open up shop as HKFA. Spending the morning online, I emailed every Upper East Side art gallery and introduced myself as a new source for important antique and modern period picture frames. Then I sat back and waited for the requests to pour in. Hmmm. Something must have happened to my internet connection. Maybe my email server was down? So I turned off my laptop and waited. It was a very long minute. Getting it up and running again, I quickly opened my email. Success! An ‘out of office’ reply. Well at least it was something. Feeling like I needed a break, I left the world headquarters of HKFA and went out for a coffee and bagel. Seemed like a very ‘New York’ thing to do. Back at the office with a full belly and a renewed sense of confidence, I opened up my email. And there it was. An actual response from a New York City Upper East Side gallery, “Please bring a selection of your frames to the gallery at 10am on Monday”. Short, sweet and full of promise. I couldn’t wait to go to sleep just so I could wake up even earlier the next day and go back to the flea market on Sunday to see what other treasures awaited me. I mean, now I was in business.
Being in business in New York City means that things can change in a New York minute - which I can tell you is quite a bit shorter, unless you’re waiting to open your email. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, months to years - but all going by in a flash. I had built a business specializing in sourcing rare and important picture frames and selling these frames to the City’s top galleries. And what did the years of being in business in New York City teach me? That the only constant is change. The City, the art world and the frame business were changing and so was I. I had met my husband and started a family, I had lived in Rio de Janeiro, I had opened my eyes to the connection between frames and art and furniture and lighting and more! I had a new inspiration. My inspiration came from the history of picture frames. During the 1600’s, 1700’s and 1800’s the picture frame was considered as furniture. The frames were not tied to the artwork, but rather to the prevailing style of furniture. As tastes changed and new styles came into vogue, the frames were also changed because they needed to be in the same prevailing taste - the architecture of the frame was tied to the architecture of the room. Aha! It was time to broaden my horizons. I began to buy furniture, lighting, art, accessories and I began to see the design that connected these pieces. The common thread that wove its way through history creating a tapestry that illustrated the beauty of the individual pieces viewed as part of a larger installation. Now when I was set up and selling at top antique shows, I was showing a complete look - furniture, lighting, art and accessories - a room setting in which I could explore the historical basis of the 20th Century designs I was selling. And thus was born 20th Century by HKFA. My years spent specializing in picture frames built the foundation for my business in fine and decorative furnishings. Taking a step back and seeing the whole room, but keeping a concentrated focus and perspective was my natural progression. Remember folks, the only constant is change. And if you want to stay ahead of the curve, you’re going to need a strong base to draw from.
And I feel fortunate to have a strong base - which is a big part of building my business and my brand. You see, I’d like to show folks how contemporary interior furnishings often have a strong foundation in historical design. That the key elements in today’s interiors are oftentimes based on a design from the past century - or even farther back. For each generations contemporary style has a strong base in the previous generations history. A key to the growth of my business is that understanding. And the understanding that each day presents an opportunity - an opportunity to explore more of our history through furniture, lighting, art and accessories. The design of our time is constantly evolving and changing. And sometimes to see the future, it’s best to look to the past. Antiques, by their very definition, are always becoming, evolving and changing. They are often defined as being something that is at least one hundred years old - and as time passes, each year brings new items into that definition. So for me, looking to the past and understanding its importance is another key to remaining relevant in the antiques business. And this is not mine alone and I was certainly not the first to see it. Diana Vreeland is quoted as saying, “There’s only one thing in life, and that’s the continual renewal of inspiration.” A huge source of my inspiration comes from those weekends spent at country flea markets as a child, from looking to the history of the object that was to spark my initial dream, from the only constant which is change. And that key is always close to me - for it is something that keeps me curious. All of those 4am adventures, early morning wake ups (and staying up really late) were another key to my business. Because each of those mornings I’m heading to the flea market I’m never guaranteed to find anything - but I am always guaranteed to have a continual renewal of inspiration. It’s the hunt for a treasure - something grand and significant, something delicate and simple - but having a strong base, an open mind and a curious nature are some of the best tools of my trade and keys to my business.
Starting my business and telling my friends and family of my plan all those years ago in 2002 while living and working as a waitress, I was met with a cool reception. All were concerned as to whether I knew what I’d need to follow my dream and if I had the tools. But treasure hunters are generally not a practical bunch - they are dreamers, idealists and gamblers. To say that their words fell on deaf ears is an understatement. I could hear only my own thoughts - those thoughts of taking a bite out of the Big Apple, of following a path without using a map or compass, of having the chutzpah to go with my gut. And I’m sure that my friends and family saw the determination in me - that coupled with my timing of sharing the news only a week or so before leaving was all that I needed to say. And what happened once I arrived in NYC you ask? Those ‘jaded’ New Yorkers must have considered my small town dream to be the stuff of a made for TV movie. Hardly. For I was welcomed into a group of other dreamers, idealists and gamblers. We were all betting against the house and each of us ready to hit it big. New Yorkers are like no one else. They are the inhabitants of an island, an island of monuments and history, an island of culture and freedom, an island of treasure. My colleagues and I each followed our own paths, criss-crossing the island and looking for the X that marks the spot. And what advice did we have for each other? Well, none really. Not that we played our cards close to the vest, it’s that antique dealers encourage one another through stories and tales. Like a jolly group of pirates on the high seas searching for treasure and regaling one another with fantastical stories of the best painting, suite of chairs or piece of jewelry that they uncovered in the most unlikely of places. And it was all of those stories that inspired me to build a strong base, always keep an open mind and nurture my curiosity. So let the naysayers have their moment for you are listening to your own inspiration.
And that voice must rise above the din, for there will also be people building walls to close you in. To contain you. To stifle you. Breaking through, going around, above or under - the walls must not hold you in. I, too, had my share of obstacles. And those obstacles come in so may forms - whether it was the day to day life in New York City, a run of bad luck or bad timing when searching for merchandise or the self doubt that creeps in and tries to construct another wall - I knew that my dream was bigger than all of it. But the greatest obstacle would always be the learning curve. The becoming while building was and always will be a driving force in the entrepreneurs schooling. Or as I like to call it, trial by fire. For my business education did not include textbooks, online courses or classrooms - it was spent taking chances, searching for treasure and often times coming up with a whole new inspiration. And that in and of itself was at times an obstacle. Learning and a natural curiosity would try to divert me from my focus. Digesting the stories of my colleagues who had made tremendous scores in other areas of the business would cause an ache within me. A pang if you will. Could my gut be leading me down the wrong path? Was a specialization in antique and modern picture frames too narrow a field? The perception of success can be one of the greatest obstacles of all - but I would not let that stop me. Instead, I celebrated their successes and used them to buoy my spirits. I dug deep and planted my feet firmly on the ground. I invested in trips to some of the world’s best museums to see the best examples of frames. I invested in catalogs and books and spent hours pouring over the images and descriptions of frames. But most importantly, I welcomed the obstacles - for they were not walls but would be the building blocks that I would use to fortify my position. To build a strong foundation. To have the courage to specialize in a field. To create a business in the heart of New York City based only on my dream and six hundred dollars. And the obstacles will continue and they have continued. I have encountered the obstacles of growth, of expanding my scope and of building a brand. 20th Century by HKFA is an important selection of well curated 20th Century finds - this leaves the door open to history. To 100 years of design and decor. To learning something new each day while maintaining focus. To becoming while building. So I continue to see obstacles as building blocks - not walls. And I will continue to use them to build my foundation and my base.
Because the challenges are many - and the growing pains will be sharp. Building my business from picture frames to sourcing fine and decorative furnishings for some of the design industry’s top creatives has been an adventure. One that saw me start a family and move from the City that Never Sleeps to Cidade Maravilhosa, Rio de Janeiro. Challenges abounded. Establishing myself and my family in a new city in a new country. Learning another language. Stepping out from my comfort zone and embarking on a whole new adventure. I was ready for the challenges. I was ready to grow my brand. Returning to my roots, I discovered a new source of inspiration through focus. Buying top examples of mid Century designer Brazilian furniture was to be my focus - learning about the line, the form and the backstory became my passion. I embraced the challenges because I knew that the foundation was there. Returning to the States after some time, my brand was beginning to become. But I was still building so there would be more challenges. Creating a strong online presence was the next step. I set about creating an impactful website and developing engaging social media accounts that were to become my calling cards in a burgeoning field of creative types. And it was here where I faced another challenge - how to stand out as a professional antique dealer. How would 20th Century by HKFA face these challenges? By entering the home furnishings industry through one of the top trade shows. By placing my brand, my inventory, my eye and myself in front of 80,000 design industry professionals. By exhibiting and selling at High Point Furniture Market. And by understanding that collaboration is one of the keys to growth. And continue to ride the learning curve.
You know, learning curves are a funny thing. The slow and steady ones allow you to push forward solidly, steadfastly - but slowly. It’s those sharp learning curves, the ones where you’re racing uphill enjoying breakthrough after breakthrough, only to stumble when you’re so close to the next peak. If you can’t hold on you’ll slide backwards down that steep slope and find yourself back where you started. But, if you can hold on, gather yourself up and re-group - you will have learned a valuable lesson. That mistakes and missteps will happen. The proverbial zigging when you should have zagged. My career has had its fair share of mistakes. Take for example an early Saturday morning in 2003 when I was sourcing antique frames in New York City. I had been growing my vocabulary of frames and felt that my knowledge base had grown exponentially in just a short year. Feeling ready to step up to the plate, I bought a near mint example of a period Louis XIII frame dating to the mid Seventeenth Century still retaining its original finish, original size and original hand carved ornament. Worm holes and all. I couldn’t get the $750 out of my pocket fast enough. Beaming with pride I headed directly to my good friend and mentor’s frame gallery in TriBeCa. His eyes widened as he took one look at my recently purchased masterpiece. “It’s a good one”, he said “for a copy.” … What? “Yes, this is a reproduction dating from the early 20th Century. As long as you didn’t pay too much, there’s always a market for these.” Feeling myself starting to slide backwards, knees buckling, stomach lurching I managed to utter, “Ummm.” That was all he needed to hear, for he had also been there. Been in the place where you think you have it all figured out - only to see that you’ve been looking at it all wrong. I took a step back, re-grouped and saw the situation for exactly what it was. A valuable lesson. For even as I was buying the frame, there was a little voice inside me saying to slow down. But I didn’t listen. Because I had been racing uphill along this learning curve, I chalked up this little voice to self doubt. Quickly pushing it away because I couldn’t be bothered - I mean, I had already learned so much about frames in the past year! Luckily this mistake and bravado cockiness was something that didn’t push me backwards. I used it to propel me further, through humility and the understanding that mentors are priceless.
Mentors are invaluable assets for they have trudged the paths, climbed up the learning curves and made the mistakes. They have been there and are willing to share their stories, successes and failures. I’d like to tell you about four different mentors that I had and that each of the four were connected to the Chelsea flea market. The first is a dealer in important American and European Twentieth Century design - a dealer who has been and continues to be a feature in the top New York, Hamptons and Miami high end antique and design shows. This dealer taught me to appreciate the scale, form and line. To believe in the pure beauty of the object. And to buy the best that you can. I think it is Miles Redd who is quoted as saying, “Buy the best, and you only cry once.” Needless to say, I have shed a few tears when shopping through the years and will no doubt continue to do so. But I’ve always had a smile on my face afterwards. The second mentor is a team of specialists in antique and period picture frames. An expert team who devotes their lives and careers to the study, understanding, restoration and appreciation of picture frames. From this husband and wife team of specialists I learned that focus and determination are essential building blocks to creating a strong foundation. And the third mentor is a renowned New York City estate buyer who has bought and sold some of the most iconic antique and decorative furnishings to pass through the five boroughs. He taught me to always look a little deeper and to explore the backstory of each object. He taught me that more often than not, your first offer is your best offer and to always be ready for the next adventure. And the fourth mentor. Ah, the City itself. The City that welcomes so many to test themselves and to dare to dream. This mentor taught me that good things come to those who hustle. And hustle I did. You didn’t think that I simply showed up, opened up shop and sat back while the money rolled in? No. I worked day and night and every weekend. Days spent working for my mentors and seeing clients. Nights spent working at any one of five different night clubs, working till 4am and then heading directly to the flea market. Nights spent waiting on the City’s hottest celebrities and days spent researching and selling the City’s finest treasures. These four mentors gave me the best advice, advice that I’d like to share with you.
Trust your eye. It really sounds simple enough, but it’s some of the most profound advice. Trust is one of the most sought after beliefs. It is the belief in reliability, truth, ability and strength. To trust in yourself is to declare to all that you have confidence and conviction. This trust will shine through in your work, your relationships and in your life. And your eye. The window to your soul, your vision, opinion, attitude. Trusting in your vision, opinion and attitude will illustrate to all that you yourself are ‘one to watch’. That you are someone whose work is to be studied, whose relations are strong and whose future is bright. When you trust your eye, you believe in what you are seeing and the way in which you are seeing it. And this vision will change over time as your opinions and attitudes change. But the thing that will always remain constant is you and the way you see things. Whether you are seeing a product, a project or an entire market - your vision is exclusive to you. And you bring your experiences to that moment of seeing. How I trust my eye has to do with how I see the antiques that I am buying. I am seeing each for their individual beauty in the moment. I am seeing each as a work of art and design whose backgrounds can be traced through history. And I am seeing it as part of a larger whole - as an ingredient in the making of something special. Over the past thirteen years I have bought and sold thousands of objects, many of which I can still see in my mind’s eye. And as I look back at them, I can see how they play off one another, how they are influenced by one another and how there is a natural progression to my vision. Each day I think back to my mentors, remembering their advice, I can see their individual vision. And I can see how they each have changed over the years while becoming and building. To remain steadfast in your confidence and convictions while always having a fresh look at the world around you is a sure fire way to create success. Trust your eye and you will always be fulfilled. The future is yours.
And what about the future? Where do you see yourself physically, mentally, financially? The variables are endless, but the path is clear. Envisioning your future is a powerful tool. By doing so, you’re creating a road map in your head that will guide you as you build and become. When I look back, sometimes I say, “I could never have seen myself here.” - but that’s not really true. For this moment is my truth and it is the culmination of hard work, good luck and great mentors. I am where I want to be. And as I look to the future, I am envisioning 20th Century by HKFA as a brand. A brand whose products celebrate history and embrace the future. A brand that seamlessly blends antique and period furnishings with contemporary designs. Designs which pay homage to the past while serving a true purpose in the present and having longevity to remain into the future. I see 20th Century by HKFA as a curated collection of objects for the home, for the connoisseur and for generations to come. And to achieve these dreams, to build them into becoming my reality will require the constant maintenance of my foundation, the collaboration with creatives from across industries and the belief in myself that I can always trust my eye. I hope you will take part in this journey, that you will build and become your reality and that one day you will look back and see the beauty that you created, whether it was a product, a project or an entire market - you will have made your mark and left the world a more beautiful, more special, more individual place because no one sees things like you do. Thank you for allowing me to share a bit of my story with you. I’m looking forward to writing, creating, envisioning and seeing many more chapters yet to come. The future is ours to see - keep an open mind, a curious nature and always trust your eye!
Earlier in the year, Colin Gleadell who is an art world reporter for the past 27 years and a regular contributor to many publications including writing a weekly column for The Daily Telegraph’s Art Sales page, reported on a portrait that sold at an auction in the countryside of London. While this would not normally merit inclusion into one of Mr. Gleadell’s columns, this was no ordinary portrait. The artist, Ambrose McEvoy - a London society painter who died in 1927, never really achieved high results in the auction world. Yet this portrait of an unknown woman (which carried a presale estimate of just $1067.) would bring $62,846. Whoa. They say, it just takes two to make a record. Boy were they right. But why all the interest you ask? And just who bought this work? I’ll tell you. Actually Mr. Gleadell coaxed the answers from the buyer, none other than Mr. Philip Mould a London gallery owner specializing in portraits. It seems that Mr. Mould has become quite well known for uncovering the identities of the sitters of the portraits he purchases. And this one was no different. The sitter was a Ms. Lois Sturt a British silent movie star who was born to a Baron in 1900 and died in 1937. Described by her biographer William Cross as a “wild child” and “the brightest of the bright young things”. There’s more to this story and if you want to read it, click here for the full article in The Telegraph. Just make sure to come back here and read why I thought it would be important to tell you about this story...
Now back to the painting in my inventory. Where were we? Oh, right. The Russian Princess artist. Seems she was quite the bohemian artist for being a Princess. Always giving of her work and her time. Living the life of an artist in Paris during the early 20th Century. But just how did she come to paint this portrait. And just who is he. I’ll tell you. Because Mr. Mould is not the only one who can uncover the identity of a sitter in a portrait. Turns out he is none other than Henry Howard Houston Woodward, part of the very prominent Houston Woodward family of Philadelphia (by way of Wilkes-Barre, originally from Connecticut). In 1917, Henry was enrolled at Yale University and set to graduate as part of the Class of 1919. It was during February of that year when Henry volunteered for World War I. He was shipped out to France just two months later. The ship carried him along with hundreds of other volunteers, cargo, trucks, supplies and more. The cross Atlantic journey was slow and Henry was chomping at the bit to arrive in France. Shortly after arrival, Henry’s section of drivers - the Ambulance 13 corps were placed on the front lines in some of WWI’s bloodiest battles. Henry’s bravery, intelligence and determination were quickly recognized and rewarded by his superiors. Henry wanted more responsibility and more action. He had begun training to become a pilot for the French and was quickly excelling in his classes. His hard work was rewarded with extra time off and he received additional days to spend in Paris. And this is where our story takes a turn.
It was in Paris where Russian Baron Eugene Fersen was escaping the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution serving as the head of a Russian Mission. The Baron, born in St. Petersburg in 1873, was the eldest son of a Grand Duchess who was a mistress to (it is reported) Czar Nicholas II (you know, the Bloody Czar...). He was quietly living in Paris and working on his manifesto which would later become the Light Bearers Society and the Science of Being (the Baron and his mother later moved to the United States, bought a gilded age mansion in Seattle owned by an imprisoned con man and used that as the headquarters for their society until his death in 1954). But, I’m getting ahead of myself. Back to Paris. The Baron was close friends with the Princess and offered a few rooms in his apartment for her to use as a painting studio. It was around this time that the Baron met Henry. The exact details of their first encounter are not known, but we do know that the two shared a very close and personal relationship. The Baron was quick to recognize Henry’s first rate character and Henry was enamored by the tales the Baron would tell of his family, his life in Russia and all that the Baron promised him after the war. The two spent as much time together as the war would allow. And it was on one of those weekends together when Henry met the Princess. She, too, recognized something special in Henry and asked if he’d like to have his portrait painted. She saw in him “an Egyptian face, ancient Egypt, that is, not modern”. The Princess painted Henry with “a classic mouth, long, straight nose, high cheek bones, and long sphinx eyes!”. And Henry knew that the Princess was “really a genius” and was “about the best portrait painter in Europe now, and in France for certain”. You could say that the two really hit it off. Henry had asked his family back home in Philadelphia for the 5000 Francs (about $1000 at the time) to pay for the portrait and said that “it would be a good souvenir in case anything did happen to me.”
Sadly Henry’s words would be prophetic. Just two weeks after having his portrait painted1918, Henry’s plane would be shot down over the small town of Montdidier, France. It was not until 1919 that the plane would be discovered. Henry’s family travelled to Montdidier sometime in 1920 to erect a monument to their son, help to rebuild a cathedral in the town that had been damaged in the war and to collect his personal belongings. This painting was among them. Once the belongings arrived back in the States, the painting was to remain rolled up. Forgotten. If not for that auction, Henry’s story would also have been forgotten. Now it will live on forever thanks to the Power of Art. Oh, and some detective work.
I've always thought that a painting can make the room. It sets the tone and gives you something to work with in designing the remainder of the space. But more than that, it gives to something to talk about and think about. Take a moment and look around your home or office or wherever you may be right now reading this. What do you see on the walls? Surely there are paintings. And depending on where you are, they are either your taste, or quite far from it. In either case you are responding to those works. And that is what any great painting does - elicits a response.
But back to that statement of fact - Art is Back. For me, it had never gone anywhere. Through economic boom and bust, I live with art. No, you can't eat it or use it as a roof over your head, so at times it may seem frivolous, but for me it is always a necessity. I've gone hungry before selling a work of art that I love. And this is what separates art from other things in the antiques business. This is why my business is called Heather Karlie Fine Art and Antiques. For me, those paintings get top billing. And now that very influential crowd is feeling the same way. As interior designers are a large part of my business, I am fascinated by how trends ebb and flow.
This being said, I find it best to stick with buying what I would want to live with as my rule. I always feel good about this because I can always speak with great emotion about whatever I might be selling. The client can see true appreciation. Whether it's an Abstract piece or an Old Master portrait, buying what you love is the first order of business. My clients can see a varied taste in my inventory, and that is what draws them in (I think).
I'm working on a new display idea for a bunch of paintings that I've had to store. Kind of a wall of art. I had been simply replacing a sold painting with one from the storeroom, but one at a time doesn't show enough of the idea. It's time to let them all be on the wall at the same time. So who is pushing the trend? The buyers by validating your purchases. The sellers by reaching deep into stockpiles of inventory. A little bit of both.
I want to thank that man who clued me in to the trend. I'll be celebrating art along with you. For me, this celebration goes on for a long, long time...
Looking at the painting one late morning at the New York City flea market (I couldn't go at my usual early hour), I knew that it was something special. I spoke with my friend about the painting and as antique dealers are apt to do, he tried to talk me out of buying it. "Heather, everyone has seen this already", he said. I bought it anyway. The business is a funny one and if a dealer thinks that all the 'right' people have already seen something and passed on it they sometimes lose a little faith in it. It only makes sense because we as dealers are buying on our own taste. If those choices are not validated by a sale, we begin to think that we made a mistake. It's just how the business works. But, back to the painting...
I asked my friend what it was all about and who the artist was. His only information was that it was a painting of a samovar and was full of Russian words. There are plenty of dealers at the flea market who speak Russian, but I chose to try my hand at translation. First though, I had to figure out who actually painted the painting. Signed with a monogram and dated 91, I couldn't wait to get home and begin my search. Trying a few different online sites, I finally found the one that gave me my answer (for just $25 per year). The monogram Ab is for Anatoly Belkin. Turns out he's alive and well and painting in Russia. He was born in 1953, went to art school in Russia and works in St. Petersburg. Great. Now, what does the painting say? Looks like another search is in order...
Found another great site, this one to translate the Cyrillic alphabet. Working the letters out and then searching again gave me my answers. Sort of. The painting says a lot about tea. And Soviet poets. And truth. Or actually un-truth. So, here goes. At the very top is the name of a famous Soviet poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. Mr. Mayakovsky was born in 1893 and lived a life that he cut short, committing suicide in 1930. Those years in between were filled with protests, jail terms, love affairs, poems, stage plays, friendships and so much more. He was close friends with David Burliuk and the two would explore Futurism in it's many veins. They were known to stand on street corners reciting poetry and throwing tea at their audiences. This was to annoy the bourgeois art establishment. From what I read, they were quite successful. In another refernce to tea, Mr. Mayakovsky is know to have said about Anton Chekhov, "Language is as precise as 'hello' and as simple as 'give me a glass of tea". There is also a famous poem by Mayakovsky where he commands the sun to stay with him and have a tea.
And what is all this talk about tea? Well, the samovar is the main focus of the painting. At the top left, there is the simple statement, "This is tea". And below that one reads the word for 'very good". It was all starting to come together. Sort of. And now for the truth, or rather un-truth. The newspaper Pravda features quite prominently along with the slogan, Workers of the World Unite! But what are the letters before and after Pravda? Well, the addition of those letters turn Pravda (truth) into un-truth or falsity.
So what does this all mean? Not sure yet. Literal translations of art are pretty superficial. The truer deeper meaning is in the understanding. And for that understanding, I spent some more time with the painting and my computer. Searching for the answers and the understanding.